Community and Urban Gardening: Both An Environmental And Healthy Choice
Over the past few years, urban farms and community gardens have become increasingly popular throughout the United States. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 800 million people worldwide grow vegetables or fruits or raise animals in cities, and the National Gardening Association reports that over one-third of American households are now growing some of their own food. In some sense, this is not a surprise, as gardening is a fun, green activity with multiple benefits. Gardening not only provides great health benefits and smart food options, but it also is cost effective and protects the environment. Yet, since many urban dwellers and communities do not have the time or space to tend to a full fledged garden, maintaining a backyard garden is not always the best option. Thus, local food advocates and environmentalists all over the United States are pushing to bring gardening to urban areas in order to strengthen these communities and improve their access to and education about fresh, healthy foods.
But what are Urban and Community Gardens?
Long Island Community gardens defines a community garden as a “single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people,” and Organic Authority defines Urban Gardening as a combination of “techniques and approaches to growing and raising food in densely populated urban centers.” Community and urban gardens both help to bring people of different backgrounds together to increase their access to fresh food and nature, clean up their neighborhoods, raise property value, and reduce neighborhood crime. However, due to the nature of cities, a “one size fits all” urban gardening approach is not applicable. Instead, there are multiple approaches that communities and individuals can take when considering to start their own garden. For example, some restaurants grow their own herbs in indoor gardens, while some neighborhoods actively take over vacant plots of land to start fruit and vegetable gardens. Different kinds of gardens work better for different neighborhoods and areas. For instance, depending on the community’s willingness to independently cultivate their own gardens, the community can organize plot gardens where each family is responsible for a different segment of the garden. Another option is to implement a cooperative or communal garden, which is typically one large space that is cultivated and managed by everyone in the community.
What are the benefits of urban and community gardens?
Urban and community gardens help provide healthy, fresh food to low-income areas, teach environmental mindfulness and stewardship to kids, and create a sense of community among neighbors. Additionally, gardens can help reduce the urban heat-island effect, which is a common environmental phenomena that causes build up and paved areas, and cities in particular, to be warmer than other living spaces. Community gardens also often attract pollinators such as butterflies, bees and birds to the plot of land they take up, helping create a diverse ecosystem that allows the garden to flourish and grow. Urban gardens also help recycle organic materials through composting, lessening the amount of food waste and food scraps that lay in excess within urban environments. Also, during times of abundance, food coming from these gardens often costs less than supermarket fare that has traveled long distances. Community gardens can provide savings since they don’t sustain themselves with sales and they don’t need to pay employees. Instead, they rely on volunteer or cheap youth labor, they rarely need to pay rent, and they can solicit outside aid from government programs and foundations that support their social and environmental missions.
Though there exists a laundry list of benefits to urban and community gardening, it is also important to keep in mind that some urban gardens, especially those in super-dense cities along the eastern seaboard known for having long histories of industrialization and lead-painted old buildings, have been found to contain lead. And with the recent popularity of urban farming, some environmental scientists say the problem of lead contamination could prove to be a serious issue. Yet there are ways to combat this issue, community and urban garden participants need to be diligent in the washing of the produce they get from their gardens in order to get rid of surface lead. There are also two options that cities can take in order to prevent lead contamination. One is cap-and-fill, which is the process of covering over an existing lot with cement, and then trucking in soil and building a garden overtop. The other is phytoremediation, where communities are encouraged to first plant things like mustards and sunflowers, which are slightly better at absorbing lead in their community gardens. These plants should be harvested and disposed of over a long period of time, ensuring that sure the soil will be safe for future use.
If you wish to set up a community garden in your own neighborhood, the following steps are important things to keep in mind:
1. Organize a Meeting Of All Interested People: Figure out who all the interested people in the community are and what kind of garden they would want: vegetable, flower, both, organic?
2. Choose A Site: First consider the amount of daily sunshine, water, soil that your garden will need. Next, find out who owns the land you wish to use as space for the garden and see if you can lease/take over the site.
3. Prepare And Develop The Site: In most cases, the land will need considerable preparation for planting. You’ll want to clean the space, gather materials and decide on the design and plot arrangement.
4. Organize the Garden: Members must decide how many plots are available and how they will be assigned. See above for the description for Communal vs Plot gardens.
5. Help Members Keep In Touch with Each Other: Good communication is key for a communal garden--think about keeping a group text message or email chain regarding the gardening schedule.
It’s also a great idea to encourage kids to get involved with a garden. Working on the garden will help teach them how they can reduce their environmental footprint and eat healthy, making it an educational, rewarding experience!
Urban gardening is a great way to bring urban-dellwing families together, giving them the chance to spend time outdoors and in nature together. One of the greatest things about community gardens in particular, is that they’re centered around creating and strengthening families and communities. Are you interested in setting up your own community or urban garden? Or if you already participate in a community garden, do you have other essential gardening tips? Comment below with your thoughts.
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